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Sara P's Fast 5: 5 Keys to beating UCF

Sara P's Fast 5: 5 Keys to beating UCF

Sara P's Fast 5: 5 Keys to Capturing the Peach Bowl Crown

Atlanta, Ga. (EETV) - Auburn is set to hit the field for the first time in 2018 in the place they played to close out 2017, Atlanta, Georgia.

The No. 7 Tigers are set to take on the last unbeaten team in the country, No. 12 UCF in the Peach Bowl. Despite UCF not being in a power-5 conference, taking down this 12-0 team will be no easy task.

Here are my 5 keys to an Auburn win over UCF, and to start 2018 on the right foot:

1) Let Stidham Sling It

There's no question if Auburn cannot get their passing game started, their running game can be halted.

If you look back at the SEC Championship, Georgia was able to shut down quarterback Jarrett Stidham's aerial attack; holding him to 145 passing yards and 1 TD. 

This lack of passing game greatly affected the Tiger running game, therefore Auburn had zero offense.

With Stidham unable to throw the ball in the SEC Championship, running back Kerryon Johnson was held to 44 yards with 3 other rushes combining for 45 yards.

If Auburn wants to get their star running back started, they must effectively move the ball through the air.

Luckily, UCF isn't known for their passing defense. The Knights are No. 110 in the country when it comes to pass defense.

They will typically allow their opponents to throw for about 260 yards per game. On top of that, they have allowed 23 passing touchdowns alone this season. That comes out to about 2 passing touchdowns allowed in each game.

For Auburn to get their offense going, they must be able to pass the ball. With Stidham already notching 17 passing touchdowns and averaging about 218 passing yards per game, the Tigers will hold an advantage in this department.

However, if Auburn cannot effectively move the ball through the air, their run game will be halted. AKA: Auburn will not struggle offensively.

2) Get Motivated

After a crushing loss to UGA in the SEC Championship, Auburn may struggle to be motivated to play in any game that isn't the College Football Playoff.

It doesn't help that the Tigers travel a mere 111 miles to Atlanta for the second time this season to play a non-power 5 conference opponent. Atlanta is not as glamorous as other bowl locations the Tigers were vying for such as Miami or Dallas.

With these factors in place, even I would have a difficult time getting myself motivated to play in the Peach Bowl after a month off of live action games.

However, Auburn must find a way to get motivated because UCF is poised to overpower the Tigers.

"You can tell that this team’s good," said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. "They’ve earned the right to get to this bowl game, which is one of the best there is."

UCF is a group-of-5 team coming out of the AAC. They are not your typical team to play in a New Year's 6 Bowl.

What this means is that the Knights want to shock the nation and pull off this upset over an SEC powerhouse, and they are not lacking any confidence in this match-up.

UCF running back Adrian Killins said Auburn is in for a "rude awakening" in the Peach Bowl because of the Knights unique speed. Wide receiver Gabriel Davis has also fired shots of confidence saying he has found plenty of holes in the Tiger defense to attack.

These "trash talk" comments have struck a chord with Auburn and will hopefully help motivate them to show up for this game.

“When you see stuff like that it does kind of make you laugh,” Auburn's Deshaun Davis said. “It kinds of gets you a little fired up. A little fuel to the fire."

On top of that, UCF is playing for a lot more than just a trophy. They are playing for their head coach Scott Frost. 

Frost recently accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater Nebraska but is staying at UCF to coach his players one last time in their pursuit of a perfect season.

This means the Knights will be playing with a lot of heart, a lot of passion, something Auburn must be able to match.

If Auburn wants to come out a winner in this battle, they must find some kind of motivation within themselves.

3) Limit Milton

McKenzie Milton is not a household name...yet. The UCF quarterback has put up impressive numbers that went almost unnoticed all season.

He even came in in eighth in Heisman voting this season, something you probably didn't know. He is an underdog quarterback, and Auburn must stop him before he becomes a household name.

Milton comes into the Peach Bowl with 3,795 passing yards and 35 touchdowns (that's a lot of touchdowns). These numbers mean he averages about 300 passing yards per contest, which is a lot.

He is No. 6 in the country in points responsible for per game with 21 points. Milton is also No. 4 in the nation in touchdowns.

On top of that, Milton is the second leading rusher for the Knights, with 497 yards and 7 TDs. He is the clear leader of the UCF offense.

"He's a guy that nobody could get on the ground and is always making plays," said Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele of Milton. "He can turn plays that you look like has stopped and into the second half of the play."

He is also the leader of the number one scoring offense in the country, helping UCF average 49.4 points per game.

Auburn, however, has been good all season with stopping passing and running quarterbacks. The Tigers held Clemson's Kelly Bryant to 181 passing yards, 59 rushing yards, and 2 TDs (both rushing).

They also held Alabama's Jalen Hurts to 82 rushing yards, 112 passing yards, and 1 passing TD.

With clear examples of stopping powerful quarterbacks with similar style play of Milton, I feel confident the Tigers will be able to shut down this major part of the UCF offense.

If the Tigers can stop this potent quarterback, they will have a major advantage in winning this game.

4) Lockdown Special Team D

The Auburn special teams, minus kicker Daniel Carlson, has been somewhat mediocre all season. They have had kicks blocked, punts blocked, and punts returned for touchdowns.

This is not a good thing going into this game with one of the best special teams in the country.

UCF's special teams is headlined by returner Mike Hughes. This season alone Hughes has returned two kicks and one punt for touchdowns.

Hughes averages about 34 yards per kick return, which makes him number three in the country in average return yards.

Kickoff and punt returns are game changing plays that can drastically affect momentum and game outcomes. With that in mind, UCF is known for their big play in games.

The Knights average about 7 big plays per game, which is a lot if you think of how much they can change the game.

For Auburn to keep any momentum in the game, they must stop UCF's special teams attack. If they can halt this explosive return game and pin UCF deep in their own half, the Tigers give themselves a higher likelihood of a favorable outcome.

5) Win the Turnover Margin

I have this key almost every single week: don't turn the ball over and win the game (potentially).

This key is even more crucial in this Peach Bowl match-up because UCF has been very effective in taking the ball away.

The Knights have totaled 29 takeaways this season with 18 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. They average about 2 takeaways per game, wow.

In fact, UCF is No. 2 in the country in the turnover margin with +1.25 turnovers per game.

This season, despite the Mercer game, Auburn has held onto the ball surprisingly well. The Tigers have fumbled away the ball 13 times and Stidham has been picked off 4 times all season.

"We've had some critical turnovers and some pretty big games," said Stidham on Auburn's turnovers. "We just have to do a better job of holding on to the ball and not giving it to them."

Like I have said time and time again, a single turnover can change the game, and, I feel, will most certainly affect the entire outcome of this matchup.

If Auburn can hang onto the ball they give themselves a higher chance of winning the Peach Bowl.


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